‘Brilliant spectacle and atmosphere’: readers’ favourite Christmas concerts | United Kingdom holidays

Special acoustics, Sloane Square, London

The wonderful Sixteen choral ensemble is about to present its 2022 Christmas programme, featuring a beautiful collection of music from the 16th century right up to the present day. It is a treat every year, with Cadogan Hall’s acoustics making it even more special.
From £19, 15 and 21 December, cadoganhall.com
Rebecca Stewart

So atmospheric, west London

exterior of ealing abbey
Photograph: Mick Sinclair/Alamy

Ealing Abbey’s Carols by Candlelight is an absolute gem – as a professional musician I’ve played there for the past few years and it’s hands-down my favourite Christmas gig. The choir is flawless and the whole event is so atmospheric, from the a cappella opening right at the back of the abbey and the procession, all the way through to the ground-shaking, quasi apocalyptic Hark the Herald at the end with its soaring descant and crashing drums. The repertoire is an expertly chosen selection of traditional carols and a sprinkling of more unfamiliar contemporary or international settings. A must for lovers of Christmas music, whatever your religious beliefs.
£15, 7.30pm, 17 December, trybooking.com

Brilliant spectacle, North Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey
Photograph: Michiko Smith/Alamy

A thousand flickering candles greeted us at 12th-century Fountains Abbey as we entered to join a carol service last year on a crisp Yorkshire evening. This annual event is a brilliant spectacle where you are warmed by mince pies and mulled wine before belting out classic carols with stars sparkling up above if you are lucky. It creates a magical communal atmosphere of people coming together in unison. Just what’s needed in these troubled times.
Free, 3pm, 11 December, numbers limited so tickets should be collected from Fountains Abbey porter’s lodge from 1pm on the day, nationaltrust.org.uk


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Carols in Welsh, St Davids, Pembrokeshire

St Davids Cathedral in St Davids
Photograph: Robert Morris/Alamy

St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire is special at any time of year but the candlelit carol service a few days before Christmas is something else. People come home from afar to attend and so most know the occasional carol sung in Welsh as well as the English ones. The first time we went, my then-boyfriend was so overwhelmed by the atmosphere he promptly proposed. My now-husband and I have tried to get back every year since.
£12, 7.30pm, 10 December, stdavidscathedral.org.uk

Pub carols, south London

The Bedford pub in Balham
Photograph: Robert Hackman/Alamy

Renowned as a comedy club and for hosting a range of stellar musicians (Ed Sheeran performed one of his early shows here), the Bedford pub in Balham sets the scene for the lively and energetic tunes of Christ Church Balham’s pub carols. For more than a decade, the church has raised the roof of the Bedford mashing up modern pop and rock songs with the carol classics you know and love; think Clean Bandit and O Little town of Bethlehem. The event is sure to warm the soul and add some groove to the classic carol service. There is fun for all, with two afternoon services aimed at families with children.
Free, 11 December, 3pm, 4pm, 6pm and 8pm, christchurchbalham.org.uk

Gorgeous people and traditions, central London

The nave of church St Clement Danes
Photograph: Jozef Sedmak/Alamy

The Fourth Choir, London’s LGBT+ chamber choir perform its winter concert in the strikingly beautiful Saint Clement Danes church. Experience early Christian music by underrepresented composers as well as contemporary, bold pieces that will hit you right in the solar plexus. This is a concert with a gorgeous tradition and glorious people. Dark lighting, mulled cider, a blissful atmosphere and an early start of 5pm with ye olde pubs close by for afters. £8-£20, 5pm, 11 December, thefourthchoir.com

I Saw Three Ships, Truro, Cornwall

The interior of Truro Cathedral in Cornwall
Photograph: G Scammell/Alamy

Truro has the UK’s most southerly cathedral and it is stunning; three spires and wonderful stained glass. So why not head to there for a Christmas-tide hit? Along with empty beaches it’s a good reason to visit Cornwall in the winter. The cathedral choir promises carols such as I Saw Three Ships, We Three Kings, the Sans Day Carol, and Gaudete, as well as joyous and beautiful music from the 16th century to the present day.
£15, 7.30pm, 17 December. Also, Handel’s Messiah 7.30pm, 10 December, from £16

Ski to the concert, Tignes Les Boisses, France

Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

If you happen to be skiing in Tignes or Val d’Isère this Christmas, don’t miss Christmas Eve mass at the Eglise Saint-Jacques in Tignes Les Boisses. The church was constructed in the 1950s, a replica of the village’s original 18th-century church, which was lost when the valley was flooded for a hydroelectric project. It is said that one of the village’s residents refused to leave and subsequently drowned – a statue to commemorate her has been erected next to the road along the dam. The church, its setting and the Christmas Eve service are beautiful – the service is held late in the evening ahead of the traditional midnight meal to celebrate the arrival of Christmas Day.
Jayne Pearson

Swedish Christmas, Harrow, London

Harrow School
Photograph: Michael Wald/Alamy

In Sweden, the dark winter evenings are brightened up on Saint Lucia’s Day (13 December) with a candlelit procession and traditional songs in churches. If you can’t make it to Stockholm, London’s Swedish community have an annual procession to Harrow School to celebrate this Nordic tradition. See the white robe-clad choir parade with flickering candles before settling into a Swedish selection of Christmas carols and mesmeric music, this year featuring popular Swedish singer Cornelia Jakobs. There’ll also be glögg and fika – mulled wine and gingerbread cookies to get you in the festive food. The atmosphere is amazing: haunting with a hint of horror in the halls of Harrow School.
£35, 7.30pm, 11 December, londonsvenskar.com. Also children’s concert at 4pm, from £15

Winning tip: Look to the rafters, Durham

Durham Cathedral
Photograph: CW Images/Alamy

There’s nothing quite like approaching magnificent Durham Cathedral from the gently frosted cobbles of Kingsgate footbridge on a crisp December day. The sheer scale of this Norman structure is bound to catch even the most frequent visitor off-guard. The acoustics are heavenly and there is something wonderfully holy about looking up to the rafters while hearing the first pure notes of Once in Royal David’s City.
Free, 6pm 22 December and 3pm 24 December, durhamcathedral.co.uk

Please use the comments below to tell us about great Christmas concerts you’ve been to anywhere in the UK and Europe

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